What (We) All Want In Life:

Before I left for my backpacking trip, Jen (my college roommate) sent me an e-mail. Sadly, it was an e-mail lost in my Inbox as I prepared for my journey in early August and I never found the time to respond. From the comfort of her new Lower East Side apartment, Jen wrote about our friendship over the past six years and her excitement for my upcoming adventure. She reminded me that she would be in New York when I returned, both physically and emotionally for all that I had experienced on my adventure. And she promised to have an adventure of her own. 

I stumbled across the email this afternoon while sifting through a number of lonely emails from the past. I reread her words with a smile on my face and only then did I notice the quote at the bottom of the page. I had passed over them in August but the words held particular significance as I read them again today:

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Perhaps Jen knew how true those words would turn out to be, how accurately they would encapsulate the past six months of my life. These were the words I followed subconsciously through the wilderness of Turkey, on the beaches of Santorini and along the roads of Connecticut. Now, with New Year’s Eve less than a week away, every young adult in New York is planning his or her final evening of 2014. Resolutions will be made and forgotten. Sequins will appear in abundance and the champagne will flow. While I still cannot believe this year is coming to a close, I’ll be celebrating with Jen in a small Hoboken apartment, toasting to a year I can only describe as uniquely unforgettable

I hope you, dear reader, savor your last days of the current year before jumping headfirst into January. Perhaps 2014 wasn’t your best 365 days and if that is true, it will be over very soon. But for the rest of you, enjoy the final days with mindfulness and love for the people in your life who carried you through another year. I know I will. 

Snow in the Big Apple

New Yorkers saw their first snowfall of the season on Wednesday and like true New Yorkers, they put up their black umbrellas and trudged on. It was my lunch break and, desperately in need of soup, I ventured out into the world of wintry wind and overcast skies. The afternoon bustle was no different that the mornings or late weekend nights and people moved along the sidewalk, hurrying on their way.

I found soup at a cafe just a couple blocks from the World Trade Tower and my City Hall subway stop. The hot, spicy broth warmed my stomach and when I left the cafe, the air was filled with fine, white flakes. I put up my bright red polka dotted umbrella and headed back to the office. My office in New York City.IMG_2206

How quickly life can change. For the first time in months, routine has reentered my life. Monday through Friday, I take the subway and read my Kindle through countless R stops from Queens to downtown Manhattan. Like millions of others, I have joined the ranks of employed commuters. In my neighborhood, the Astoria community plays holiday music from large speakers hung from tree branches over the sidewalk and in the evenings, lights gleam in green, red and gold over the busy streets. It’s a working holiday wonderland here in the Big Apple.

I’m still the girl who looks up at the skyscrapers in open-mouthed awe. I have not yet adjusted to starless skies, constellations hidden from view amidst the flashing advertisements and glowing signs. This city, filled with sky high promise of glamour and power, buzzes with an energy I’ve never known before. Despite the warning signs of my body (coughing, stuffy nose), I move on to the next holiday party and early morning shuffle. I’m the first to admit that I’ve been caught up in the constant flurry of movement and activity that is simultaneously intoxicating and nerve-racking.

Where has my mindfulness gone? With this season’s holiday spirit and growing list of un-purchased presents, maybe we all need to remind ourselves of our own “presence of mind”. This week I wish all of you some time to reflect, homemade candy cake brownies and an early bedtime.

A Pauper in Queens

Pack. Drive. Starbucks. Drive. Reststop. Drive. Arrive. Park. Unpack. Assemble. Arrange. Rearrange. Hug. Kiss. Goodbye. IMG_2156

My parents (bless their maternal/parental hearts) woke up early this morning and loaded up a borrowed truck with all of my belongings despite the upstate New York cold. My stuff, hidden away in storage for months, was dusted off and organized into crates, bags, larger bags and boxes. I pictured our boot tracks, imprinted in snow on the living room carpet and kitchen floor, melting into clear puddles as we drove away. Destination: Queens. 

IMG_2159I always forget the “first night in a new apartment” feeling until after the sun has set and dinner is nothing but empty plates and an unopened bottle of wine. Directly after opening the front door, I have a preprogrammed need to unpack quickly, to move my belongings from their cramped, dusty boxes and into my new nest. Kitchen supplies find new cabinets. Clothes find their rightful drawers. The bed is arranged and rearranged to find the “best” feng shui position. Move the bed away from the wall to encourage love. Never sleep facing the door. Avoid mirrors and electronics. Eventually, the packing slows and I inevitably find myself standing in a strange apartment with the pieces of my life scattered across the new hardwood floors. IMG_2160

This night, I did what any self-respecting individual would do. I opened a bottle of Champagne, cut a slice of pumpkin pie and watched Sleepless in Seattle. From my position on the couch, I could see into my bedroom but wasn’t ready to tackle the remaining bit of organizing that needed to be accomplished.  After the hotel/hostel lifestyle, the idea of sleeping in the same room for longer than five days feels confusing and excessive. Then again, the idea of having a job also seemed like a long forgotten concept and in just four days I will be rolling up to my new office in downtown Manhattan. Life changes pretty quickly. Oh look, my glass is empty… IMG_2157

Do you remember the end of Sleepless in Seattle? Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) meets Annie (Meg Ryan) at the top of the Empire State Building in a parallel of the 1957’s movie An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. It’s evening in New York City and foreshadowing You’ve Got Mail, Tom and Meg look at one another and fall in love. It’s magical.

I have a romantic vision of myself as a well-spoken, weller-dressed New York wonder woman. This fantasy individual has a packed social calendar but still has time to reverse climate change and get eight hours of sleep. She has an excellent shoe collection and remembers to dust under her bed more than once a year. Maybe one day, I will take the elevator to the observation deck of the Empire State building and like Tom Hanks, find my crazy New York adventure was exactly what I needed it to be. In the meantime, I’m just an uprooted sapling hoping there is enough soil in Queens to find nutrients and put down new roots. 

New keys. New door. Same me. 

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[Like the pictures? Thanks new iPhone 6. I have rejoined the current generation.]

Home (Sweet) Home

On Monday night, Emirates Flight 250 from Milan Malpensa Airport landed safely in New York City at JFK. The city glittered in the crisp November evening and passengers unbuckled their seat belts in a chorus of clicks and clacks. Bags were removed from overhead bins and children, woken from their airborne sleep, cried and whimpered in their parents’ arms. I leaned my face against the glass of the airplane window and watched my reflection faint against the black tarmac. The eyes in the window formed tears which spilled into the orange traffic cones and blinking safety lights far beyond the well-lit cabin. I willed the plane back into the sky, wished a reversed path east over the Atlantic and a safe return back to Italy where the journey had begun three and a half months ago. My desperate pleas were in vain. I bundled up my belongings, powered on my phone, and joined the line of weary passengers as they exited the plane.

Ciao Milano

Three days have passed since then. The subtle awareness of returning to the United States happens unexpectedly in the most mundane ways. The waiters at the restaurant speak English. My computer and phone charger no longer require thick boxy adapters. My mornings are spent deciding what outfit I will wear, overwhelmed by the sheer number of clothes and shoes, before returning to my pjs and slippers. Most things–my parents’ house, my friends’ lives, the life I left– seem relatively unchanged and I catch myself wondering if this adventure was all just a dream. All that remains from my European excursion is an opened box of Turkish Delight and the small collection of dirty clothes still stuffed into dusty backpack in the living room.

P1060391But this life, the life back home, is filled with new and colorful sweets as well. This weekend I’m spending time exploring the new apartment in Queens and preparing for a job interview with a sustainability company in Manhattan. I missed my friends and still relish the luxury of texting them from the same time zone, catching up on promotions, new adventures and graduate school applications. They have welcomed me back with open arms as if no time as passed at all and it is these people I’ve returned to that make the loss of others somewhat easier to bear. P1060389

I’m baking again with a full kitchen at my disposal and countless pumpkin muffin recipes to try. I have a plethora of blog posts to write and newfound time to write them (thanks unemployment). And I have yet another city just waiting to be explored with a new wide-eyed, friendly, curious traveler self to take into this new chapter of my life. Maybe I’m not traveling across country lines at the moment but I’m still exploring every day.

Thank you, dear readers and dearer friends, for welcoming me home. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that in some ways…

it is good to be back. 

Confusion in Numbers

I spent the last ten days on the Greek island of Santorini, exactly six more days that I had originally planned. My trip was partly delayed due to the black sand beaches and the perfect weather. The connecting ferry to Turkey only ran three times a week and Thursday became Sunday, which became Tuesday all too fast. But my trip was also delayed because of the incredible group of travelers I met during my stay. This group of people seemed to be as captivated by the island as we were with one another and we spent every waking moment enjoying this little slice of paradise together.P1050189

The group, composed of Canadians, Australians, Germans, Philippinas, Haitians, Spanish, Greeks, Colombians, Indians and Americans, all shared a love of travel. And in this love, we also shared a mutual desire for some change from our lives back home. Three women (including myself) quit their jobs to travel alone. One woman spent a month in a meditation retreat and an Australian girl longed to return to Santorini instead of attending university in the fall. Chanae, the person I met in Athens and followed to the island, hadn’t been back to Australia in almost two years and had no clear date for returning home. I felt as if we were all searching for something–an answer perhaps–without clearly defining the questions at hand.  

Some travelers want to see the world. For them, the questions are simple: “How can I travel forever?” or “How can I increase my maximum vacation time?” But for others, I think the search is much less defined. Will I find someone to love me? What should I do with the rest of my life? These questions will not be found within stamped passport pages or months overseas. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. P1050161

One evening, I found myself wandering the streets of Oia before meeting up with the group for the famous sunset. The day had been full of sightseeing and my skin was tight under a layer of sea salt and sweat from my morning swim and afternoon hike. I was dehydrated and my legs threatened to give out as I trudged up a rocky path to get a better view of the coast. 

P1050437Down the hill and to the right, I spotted a car. It had been unoccupied for quite some time based on the model and the thick layer of rust underneath the faded blue paint. No wheels remained and someone has piled large rocks onto the driver’s seat and under the hood. On the back left end of the car in scratched white lettering, the words What is life? had been written. P1050438I sat in the fading light of the Santorini sun for a long time staring out to sea and contemplating the words of the car. I thought about this new group of friends: our morning yoga during the sunrise on Perissa Beach and the nights spent comparing cultures over wine and ouzo shots. I thought about my imminent move to New York City and my undefined relationships with people back home. I thought about the pressure I put on my European exploration to conquer some great internal unknown I had yet to identify.

P1050267Despite my desire to travel alone, I secretly craved a community of people who loved exploring the world as much as I did. I wanted to find others who would rather shoulder a backpack and book a flight than map out their next logical career path. And in every hostel in every country, I found those such people. They, like the car, didn’t have the answers to life’s big questions either. And that was something…

For I’d rather spend time contemplating the meaning of life with equally confused people than trying to figure it out all alone. P1050150

 

Missing Autumn

Lphotoate afternoon in Rome. The wind blows dried leaves into piles along the sidewalk; they crack and whisper against one another. The early October weather is warm and the afternoon sunlight baths Rome in King Midas’ kisses. I pass stores and restaurants opening after their post-lunch hours, ready to pull meandering customers in for a pre-dinner drink.

Without warning, I am overcome with a sense of longing for the autumn I remember back home. Maybe it’s the leaves–brittle and brown–or the sunlight that streams through the trees making playful shadows on the sidewalk and the windows of the parked cars. I ache for the bags stuffed with freshly picked apples and the taste of Dad’s baked pies, hot from the oven. I miss carved pumpkins on the steps of front porches and the crisp fall air that reddens cheeks and scatters the nicely raked leaves. I miss inventing fall drinks with fresh apple cider and the smell of pumpkin brownies with extra eggs and fudgy swirls. For the first time I can remember, I am homesick not for a person or a favorite food but for a season I will never see.

My friends and family are sending me reminders from back home. Hannah and Devin are sending baked good recipes with pumpkin spices. Billy mentions the changing leaves surrounding the Connecticut golf course. In my Inbox, Mom has listed her favorite fall memories:

sitting in lawn chairs  with cold toes on the sidelines of high school soccer games…
forcing a crying three-year old [me] to wear fairy wings
picking apples with Grandma Audrey and Grandpa Frank
becoming aware of the shortening days each Saturday afternoon on the ride back from Schenectady
waiting for the afternoon school bus among the fallen and crunchy leaves
family eating orgies of apple cider and cider donuts
Back-to-School nights

This year, my October is full of sunny days at the Roman Colosseum, sandy Santorini beaches and Athens’ rooftop bars. I will spend my remaining autumn days island hopping and exploring the coast of Turkey. By the time I return to the United States in November, bold winter weather will have pushed autumn back into the closet with the fall coats and leftover Halloween costumes. The seasons wait for no traveler.

From longing, I now feel comfort imagining the maple trees in western Massachusetts and upstate New York changing colors of red and yellow just as they did every year since my memory began. My current life is so devoid of routine and structure–as I struggle through yet another crowded city, airport, and ferry terminal–that the knowledge of another autumn season occurring back home provides me with a sense of order and peace. And when I struggle through another day of logistical planning or worry about my future after my return home, I remember that wherever I am and whatever I do, the seasons will come and go just as they always have. As predictable as the ocean waves that play on this Santorini shore.

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One Lovely Blog Award

All my blogging time has been spent trying to catch up on all the places I’ve visited. This is a welcome surprise! Thank you so much, The Nomadic Panda, for my nomination. September 8th was my 4 year anniversary with WordPress so your nomination couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve loved reading your posts and traveling in your footsteps. Enjoy Nice!

(I’m stealing the following paragraph from our favorite aforementioned Panda.)

The One Lovely Blog Award nominations are chosen by fellow bloggers for those newer or up-and-coming bloggers. The goal is to help give recognition and to also help the new blogger reach more viewers. It also recognizes blogs that are considered to be “lovely” by the fellow-blogger who chose them, acknowledging bloggers who share their stories or thoughts in a beautiful manner to connect with their viewers and followers. In order to “accept” the award the nominated blogger must follow several guidelines, which are listed below.

The guidelines for the One Lovely Blog Award are:
•Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
•Add the One Lovely Blog Award logo to your post and/or blog.
•Share 7 facts/or things about yourself.
•Nominate 15 bloggers you admire and inform nominees by commenting on their blog.

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So here are my 7 facts:

  1. I’m moving to Manhattan when I return from my European excursion to live with a girl I’ve had a friend crush on for 6 years.
  2. I continue to be amazed by the kindness of others.
  3. I like beer–especially IPAs and deliciously dark stouts.
  4. My parents have given me the world.
  5. Spring is my favorite season.
  6. I’m secretly proud that I was born with 12 toes.
  7. I believe travel is and should always be a way of life.

Now I need to mention and nominate 15 other incredible bloggers from the tons that I follow. Can I space it out? I think yes. The theme of these nominations is unsurprisingly TRAVEL.

  • Musings from under a Mango Tree– Follow Beth in Western Africa as a Peace Corp Volunteer. Incredible photos and thoughtful posts.

  • Travel Junkie Photography– Amazing pictures and descriptions from all over the world. Places I’ve mostly never been…and really want to go!
  • Arizona Highways – How many of us have spent as much time in Arizona as we would like? I remember my first family vacation there and can’t wait to visit again. This is a great blog with multiple editors.
  • Ordinary Girl Extraordinary Dreamer– I know, I know. The Nomadic Panda was nominated by her so I should pick someone else. But her blog is great!
  • Golden Days In Italy What Golden Day are you on? Spend some time with Susan exploring her many posts on Italy.

Thanks again!

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Update!

[I uploaded at least two more pictures for each of the last two posts. Make sure to check them out!]

The twelve (minus two) toes are traveling again! Unfortunately, with the limited Wi-fi access, posting blogs have been difficult at best. The good news is that I’m constantly writing and taking pictures but none of you wonderful readers have a chance to see any of that. I hope as I continue to jet from hostel to hostel, the Wi-Fi situation will pick up.

In the meantime, I have a LOT to write about Nice, France. But since I will constantly be playing catch up, I thought I would give you my itinerary for the next couple of the days.

France

  • Nice (until August 17)

Italy

  • Genoa (17th-19th)
  • Cinque Terra (19-22nd)
  • Torino (22nd-26th)
  • Venice (26th-TBD)

There are moments when I feel like I’ll never get the traveling thing under control. Where is my passport? Where is the bus station? What does that sign say? Why are there no hostels? Does that person want to be my friend?  And the other moments are pure joy or “pinch me, I’m dreaming” sort of feelings. Everyone is traveling for a different reason but we all laugh in the same language and it’s easy to find common ground with others who want to see what the world  has to offer. I’m seeing incredible things every single day and can barely keep track of the days in my head. It’s a whirlwind and an incredible exploration of self.

Just arrived in Genoa (Genova) and can’t wait for the Italian portion of my trip to begin!

Eze Village, Côte d'Azur, France
Eze Village, Côte d’Azur, France

Kate’s 8: Steps for Planning a Travel Adventure

Here is a list of tips I learned while planning my trip. Nothing groundbreaking but definitely important things to keep in mind. While these fortune cookies of advice are focused on travel aboard, they could apply to anyone ready to travel somewhere new. 

Thinking or wishing about your own trip somewhere abroad? Consider the following (in order):

Kate’s 8: Steps for Planning a Travel Adventure

  1. Make a list. Where do you want to go? How many countries/cities do you want to explore? Start big but know when to pare down. Think about distance, budget and timeline before committing to any set plan.
  2. Ask friends for advice. Chances are at least one of your friends or friend of friends have been to the destination you’re dying to visit. Fellow travelers love giving tips and recommendations so don’t be afraid to ask. Cast a wide net to seek out help…or ask them to come along!
  3. Research necessary logistics. This is super important. Research the places you are going and make sure you have all the necessary visas, vaccinations and a valid passport. Contracting a deadly disease or deportation shouldn’t be at the top of your bucket list. 
  4. Purchase the ticket and tell everyone you know. There is something incredibly final about clicking “pay” and receiving that Ticket Confirmation in your Inbox. When I first started planning, I had countless people asking me when I was leaving, where I was going, and when I was coming back. I needed to have some answers, both for them and for myself. You WILL be held accountable by your friends and family. Buy the ticket and don’t look back. 
  5. Start shopping early. Researching the right backpack and  hiking sandals takes time. Don’t get stuck with equipment or shoe apparel you’re not happy with or get forced into expedited shipping so your Osprey 55 L Farpoint will show up three days before you leave. For your procrastinators, Amazon Prime is a godsend. 
  6. Save, save, save. This might be the trickiest part. You will need to make some changes in order to accumulate the money, time and willpower to go. I recommend keeping a piggy bank or personal travel fund that you pay into every week. Made your lunch instead of going out? Add $5.00 to the money jar. Chose a smaller apartment to save on rent? Add $50 each month. Investing incrementally is a great way to save money while focusing on the larger goal instead of the daily sacrifices. 
  7. Give yourself a buffer window. Whether you’re taking time off of work, traveling after school or quitting your job, it’s important to have some time to prepare and reflect before jet setting on your incredible adventure. Set aside some buffer time (if you can afford it) before leaving for your trip. I gave myself almost a month between the time I left my job and left the country. Double checking the packing list and getting a couple nights of zzz’s will make you more alert and ready to go!
  8. Don’t wait. There will be no “right time” for you to go on a trip. Life is a series of somethings or someones you won’t want to leave behind. Truth is that those people, those careers, and those responsibilities will all be there when you get back. Don’t underestimate the incredible opportunity to see the world and fulfill your wanderlust. Chances are, you won’t regret anything but the trip not taken. 

Be brave. Trust yourself. See something new. 

Sacred Rim, WY
Sacred Rim, WY

The Question Every Traveler, Millennial, and Retiree Is Asking

I spent last weekend on the Jersey Shore with three wonderful people, a final trip before my European excursion. Each day was filled with good food, naps on the beach and pure relaxation. On Saturday evening, I left my clothes on the sand and waded into the ocean alone. I ventured deep into the blackness until the warm salty water covered my arms and neck. Up above, starlight shone through holes cut in the construction paper sky and covered the world in a soft glow. I looked east—I’ll be crossing you soon, dear Atlantic Ocean— and out over the incoming tide. Here, in this liquid wonderland, the future felt limitless.

Many of my peers are struggling to make sense of their seemingly limitless future, a time  I affectionately call the Two Year Itch.  It’s been two years since college graduation and the collective plunge into the outside world. The newlywed phase of increased freedom and responsibility has been replaced with a less positive feeling. These young talented minds, taught to speak in tweets and think like CEOs, are currently  treading water wondering why the perfect job, career path or soul mate hasn’t floated by. Many are quitting/changing their jobs, moving to new cities or pursuing medical, law or graduate school. Some are married, more are in relationships and most are divided as to whether “being single” is the best or worst part of their young adult lives. I watch my friends and former classmates lift their heads above the water and gaze back toward shore, internally questioning their initial sense of direction and motivation. Under the dark blue sky, we ask ourselves the same question.

Where should I go from here?Map

This is not a question unique to the Millennial generation in 2014. This is a question for all of us: for every passionate activist, retired employee, single parent and widowed spouse. This question spurs doubt in our choices and fear of the unknown. We question our decisions or refuse to make them at all. Cracking the binding of a blank passport, we have no plane ticket, no itinerary and no planned destination. Time is of the essence and we have everywhere and nowhere to go.

Let’s take one step back and focus on the why. Why are we going? Where do we hope the going is going to get us? Sara Horowitz, founder of Freelancers Union, defines the “what” as meaningful independence:

“the ability to pursue your passions and your dreams, secure in the knowledge that

you’re connected to people, groups, and institutions that have your back.”

To me, this goal rings true. I must identify my passions and dreams so I may pursue them. I must surround myself with the people who can make these ideas happen in a supportive environment. The ocean is vast and the stars are bright.

Katelyn’s Five (of many) Goals and Dreams:

  • Backpack through Europe.
  • Live in New York City.
  • Carve writing into my daily routine.
  • Visit Hawaii. 
  • Work at a company with motivated and inspirational people.

Now make your list. Are the jobs, people and activities in your life working toward meaningful independence? If not, it might be time to make a change. Until then, just keep swimming.